What Does it Mean to be “Born Again?”

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I woke up very early this morning with a single idea filling my mind. Interestingly, I have discovered that the Lord chooses to communicate with me at that particular time, because this often happens. So, I have learned to pay careful attention to what those ideas are when they come. This morning it was the whole idea of what the familiar phrase, “born again,” means. 

In light of the current political situation, we have understandably been discussing the civil government, one of the expressions of the first edge of the sword of the word of God, His immutable law. Doing a blog posting on being born again seems to be a complete change of topics. 

However, its not at all, because while God’s law, edge #1 of His “sword” (His word), being born again is an aspect of edge #2, God’s grace, or the gospel. We cannot, see, understand, or properly apply the law of God in the civil government, without personally experiencing the grace of God in the new birth. Both edges, working together, constitute “living in the kingdom.”

Nothing is more basic to evangelical Christianity than the concept of being born again.

So, when I got up, I looked to see how many times it was mentioned in the Bible. I could think only of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, but I was sure such a popular and important phrase must be sprinkled all through the New Testament.

Nope. The phrase is only mentioned in three places in the whole Bible! Twice in John 3, where Jesus tells Nicodemus that He “must be…,” (vs.3), and “Do not marvel that you must be….” (vs. 7). The only other reference in the whole Bible is Peter telling his readers that they “(have) been…” 

So, assuming those words are for us, as well as Nicodemus and Peter’s readers, we need to be “born again.” This is not an unusual idea, and, according to Peter, some already have been! These are the only verses we have that explicitly address the issue of being “born again.” There are certainly other verses that address the same idea, but always by using other phrasing.

The issue becomes, “How does this happen?” These verses give us no clue. There are no instructions from either Jesus or Peter on how we can make it occur. Peter says that his readers were now able to obey the command to love their brethren by the Spirit’s power, because they had been “born again…through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23). There is no indication that they themselves had anything to do with it, 

Peter sees in this verse that harmony in the church through love for the brethren, an expression of the kingdom of God on the earth, is realized by being born again. In John 3, Jesus says that understanding or “seeing” the kingdom (vs. 3) and then entering it (vs. 5) both depend on this new birth. Furthermore, He also says in both Mark 10:15 and Luke 18:17 that one must become like a “little child” to enter the kingdom. 

If we put these verses together, it seems that God’s eternal purpose for mankind—ruling for God as He establishes His kingdom “on the earth as it is in Heaven”—happens only as we are born again and simultaneously have become like little children.

These verses tell us nothing about how that happens! John tells us that Jesus came to the Jews and they did not receive Him as their salvation, but all who did had done so because they were “born (again), not of blood (inherited from family), nor of the will of the flesh (good works), nor of the will of man (by choosing to receive Him), but of God.” God alone decides when and how we are born again, with no help from us!

Since it is God’s call as to when, where and under what circumstances we have this experience, how do we know if He has as yet given it to us? 

Jesus, our example of a Christian living here on the earth, walking by faith “as the Son of Man” just as we are exhorted to do, was born again at His baptism. Then God the Father sent the Holy Spirit, for the first time, to come to dwell within His perfect-with-no-sin-nature, beloved Son, and Jesus was born again at age 30. 

When we are likewise born again the same thing happens to us. The Holy Spirit comes upon us and we begin to see the two evidences we have discussed.

  1. His fruit begins to appear in our lives without any effort or even our awareness. We find ourselves (as Peter says of church members who have been born again) actually loving those unlovely fellow-church members. We actually experience joy in the midst of difficulties and heartache, and always a peace when there is turmoil occurring all around us.
  2. We have the faith of a little child that Daddy has got us, and we have nothing to fear. Our model for living as a little child, Jesus Christ, spoke all through the book of John about how He lived this way. His Father did everything through Him by the Holy Spirit, Whom He received when He was born again at His baptism. He said He always only taught His Daddy’s doctrine, spoke only His Daddy’s words and did only His Father’s works. As He came to earth on a mission to save the world, He was the least original man who ever lived!

That is a perfect picture of the lives God has for us as believers today. Jesus definitively accomplished His Heavenly Father’s eternal purpose by redeeming a fallen world at the cross when He died and rose again. Today, the Holy Spirit lives in us as we are born again, just as He did in the life of Jesus at His baptism. We are now ready to join the Father in the “family business,” just as did Jesus as He began His ministry immediately after His baptism. Now He continues that ministry as He experientially brings His salvation and rule to the whole world—through us! 

Being born again initiates this whole, life-long process in our lives of living in the kingdom, which Jesus was relating to Nicodemus. I want to conclude with a real story of a young high school girl who told her father (who relayed the story to me): “I want to know the Lord, but I know I don’t.” She had invited Jesus into her heart, been baptized and tried with all her heart “to believe,” but knew she didn’t. 

Now, years later, and after experiencing a time of willful rebellion, this now-married mom with several children is an eager believer. If we are to “know them by their fruits,” not their words, she has had an experience with the living God, and is a warrior in the battle. She was born again along the way, in God’s own time, through no effort of her own. This is how we are all born again

Lord, continue to open my eyes and help me to live in this kind of reality—of my ever-present sin and of Your ever-present love and forgiveness.

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  1. Bill Robinson says:

    Robert—was studying John 3 with a group of guys this morning!! AMAZING… both the time with the guys and that the Lord put these thoughts in the mind and on the heart of my Spiritual Father at the same time!! God’s Ways…

  2. Jerry Buccola says:

    Splendid Robert!! Indeed the Church Fathers understood that baptism was the remission of sins and the filling of the Holy Spirit!

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